Middleton leads Bucks past 76ers 116-106

A little veteran leadership got the young Milwaukee Bucks back

on the winning track.

Caron Butler scored 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished

out four assists in his return to the lineup after missing 12 games

with a swollen left knee, leading the Bucks to a 106-96 victory

over the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night.

”The thing this team has desperately missed from him is his

leadership,” Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said of the 12-year NBA

veteran. ”Throughout the game he was on the court talking, pumping

his teammates up. We had a couple of bad stretches, but he kept the

guys positive. That’s something we’ve missed with him being

gone.”

The hot-shooting Bucks recovered from consecutive overtime

losses to pick up just their sixth win of the season. Khris

Middleton scored 27 points and Brandon Knight added 21 points and

six assists for the Bucks (6-21).

Butler played nearly 40 minutes in his return, something that

Drew said wasn’t part of the game plan for the chronically

short-handed Bucks.

”Coach stayed in my ear consistently the whole game asking me

how I felt,” Butler said. ”I got a rhythm early. We had the game

under control from the beginning.”

Milwaukee, owner of the league’s worst record, led most of the

game and built a 19-point cushion early in the fourth quarter,

matching its largest lead in any game this season. The 76ers pulled

within seven with about one minute remaining, but the Bucks

converted 10 consecutive free throws to secure the win.

Butler praised Middleton, a second-year player, and rookies

Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 12 points and seven rebounds, and

Miroslav Raduljica, who contributed a season-high 14 points.

”(Middleton) did a great job of loosening up everything. He was

finding pockets and getting in the paint and hitting floaters. I

thought Giannis did a great job continuing to run the floor.

(Raduljica) was huge. He was banging down there and making good

decisions and keeping the ball high and not turning it over.”

The injury-depleted Bucks played without starting center John

Henson, who bruised his knee in a collision with the Cavalier’s

Anderson Varejao in the loss at Cleveland Friday night. Henson’s

absence left Middleton as the lone Milwaukee player to appear in

all 27 games this season.

Raduljica, who has played sparingly at times this season, filled

in nicely in Henson’s absence.

”I’m here to help and I think I’m doing that every time I get a

chance,” Raduljica said. ”We had two really unlucky losses and we

had Caron back with great energy and he gathered us around him and

everybody took part of his energy and that allowed us to win.”

Thaddeus Young had 30 points and 10 rebounds to lead

Philadelphia. Spencer Hawes added 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Both teams were coming off overtime games Friday. The Bucks lost

114-111 at Cleveland, their fifth consecutive defeat, while the

76ers nipped the Brooklyn Nets 121-120 at home.

”As a group, our only hope to play some semblance of NBA

defense is by committee,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. ”When

different pieces go missing, or it is not a collective toughness

and focus, then we are vulnerable. At times we were vulnerable

tonight. In general, trying to find 48 minutes worth of defense has

been a problem.”

The Bucks shot 52 percent from the field for the game, compared

with 41 percent for the 76ers.

”You are not going to win a whole lot of games giving up that

kind of efficiency to the other team,” Hawes said.

After trailing by 10 at the half, the 76ers opened the third

quarter with an 8-0 run. The Bucks regained control with a 15-4 run

midway through the quarter and held an 85-72 heading into the

fourth. Middleton led the Bucks with 10 points in the quarter.

The Bucks held a double-digit lead for nearly the entire second

quarter, growing their margin to as many as 15 with two minutes

remaining. Milwaukee, bolstered by 51 percent shooting over the

first two quarters, held a 59-49 lead at halftime. Knight had 17

first-half points, while Butler added 13 points and seven

rebounds.

Young had 15 points and eight rebounds in the first half for

Philadelphia, which shot just 40 percent.

The Bucks grabbed a 29-23 lead after the first quarter, paced by

Middleton’s seven points.

NOTES: Philadelphia has lost 12 consecutive road games. . Former

MLB star and one-time Milwaukee Brewers executive Sal Bando visited

Bucks’ coach Larry Drew before the game. ”Sal played in Kansas

City, which is where I’m from. He was one of my heroes. I came up

playing baseball. It was my passion. Basketball was secondary,”

Drew said. . The Bucks used their 15th different starting lineup in

27 games this season.